Ted Kravitz assures McLaren were not ‘sandbagging’ and are ‘in for a tough start’

Henry Valantine
McLaren mechanics work on the MCL60. Bahrain February 2023.

McLaren mechanics set to work on the MCL60 while it is in the garage in pre-season testing. Bahrain February 2023.

McLaren should brace themselves for a “tough start” to the 2023 season, according to Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz. 

The Woking-based team clocked the lowest number of laps of any of the grid across the three days of testing in Bahrain, and while they still gained plenty of valuable data from averaging more than 100 laps per day, there were also times when the MCL60 was left rooted in its garage.

This came as a result of a technical issue surrounding the wheel brows on the car, with Lando Norris managing only 40 laps on his first day of testing overall – and McLaren CEO Zak Brown admitted they will be heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend behind the targets they had set themselves, though he said there was “nothing alarming” to be too concerned about.

Writing in a pre-season fan Q&A blog on Sky Sports, Kravitz was asked about whether the team were ‘sandbagging’ – deliberately keeping speed under wraps during testing – and he quick to clarify his belief that McLaren were not holding much back in terms of their performance, and face a difficult season-opening weekend in Bahrain.

“I’m afraid to say McLaren are not sandbagging – they do have some issues at the moment,” he wrote.

“Lando will be giving it his all and I wouldn’t for a moment expect that he won’t be able to get some good points finishes because he is an incredible driver, but they are definitely in for a tough start until their new package comes at the fourth race of the season in Azerbaijan.

“In a sense the second year after a major rule change has divided the grid up into two camps, those that got it right last year when the rule change happened, and those that got it wrong.

“For those that got it wrong, it’s been even more of a step back, in the sense that you might have taken four paces back to take six forward – so it really underlines how important it was to get it right last year.

“Mercedes haven’t changed concept, but they’re still trying to make their concept work. It’s a different concept than the ones that we’re seeing bear fruit – the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari.

“Aston Martin changed their concept half a season into last year, six races arguably, or two races after they realised their concept wasn’t going to work, and are now starting to bear fruit of that change.

“Alfa Romeo/Sauber, they also changed their concept from last year to this year. It looks okay, but they have still got a bit of time to catch up.

“The other team that changed their concept most notably is McLaren. They saw that something wasn’t going to work if they carried on the route that they had last year.

“They’ve gone back out of it and then down another route, and in that change, as Zak Brown says, have not hit their performance goals for this year.

“But that’s not to say that they’re not going to, and that they’re not going to end up with a quicker car than they would have done had they kept their old concept.

“So I think it’s the right move for McLaren, but it won’t look that way for a while – until they get it sorted.”

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The silver lining for McLaren? They’ve recovered before

McLaren found themselves in a very similar situation heading into the start of last season, at least on outright speed, with neither Norris nor Daniel Ricciardo able to get themselves into contention all weekend in Bahrain in 2022.

They only qualified P13 and P18 respectively that weekend, before finishing P14 and P15 in a race to forget for the Woking squad, but it was not long before they were competing again.

The hope for McLaren this time around will have to be on a repeat performance if they do end up struggling in Bahrain at the weekend, with Norris going on to take a podium a few races later at Imola last season.

It’s an obvious cliché but one which is pertinent in Formula 1’s largest ever race schedule – it is a long season ahead, and McLaren will have plenty of opportunities to turn things around after a trickier time of things in testing than they would have liked.